What do you think of my beard?

BeardToday, I’m going to use new technology to borrow an old idea.

The new technology is an  iPhone app called Beardify. Unfortunately, my iPhone-savvy friends didn’t show me this app until after Christmas. (And I would have never found it on my own.) But it still seemed worthwhile to have a little fun — and, I’m afraid, I might find new career opportunities as a mall Santa.

Ho, ho, ho.

Working on this reminded me of a long-ago column by Jack Case, a curmudgeon with whom I worked a long time ago. Case, who spent 42 years at the Bismarck Tribune, died in 2001 at age 78. For most of his tenure at the newspaper, he wrote a six-day-a-week column called Browsing Around. It was, Trib reporter Frederic Smith wrote in a news story about Case’s death, “snippets of buzz, observations and humor, along with (Case’s) Question for Today.”

When I worked at the Tribune, many of the newspaper’s historic front pages had been framed and decorated the stairs that led to the second-floor newsroom. It included the Tribune’s front page that reported the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The entire front page was devoted to Kennedy — except for the lone column on the far, left side of the page. That was saved for Browsing Around by Jack Case.

Not Jack Case.
Not Jack Case.

And I’ll always remember one Browsing Column in particular — it was the inspiration for today’s blog post. In it, his normal column mug was replaced with a picture of Case wearing a Russian-style winter hat made out of beaver. His Question for Today was: What do you think of my hat?

I always liked Case. When I was still a young reporter who was just learning how to write a weekly column, he used to tell me the soles of my shoes should wear out before the seat of my pants. Translation: Get away from my desk and go where the news was. It was very good advice.

I would often tag along with Case to a couple of the kaffeeklatsches where he was a regular. I learned by watching him sit there, drink coffee and listen. Whenever he heard a good story, you could see his ears perk up and then he’d leave the table and go write up notes for what he had just heard.

So I’ll pay a tribute today to Jack and ask: What do you think of my beard?

5 thoughts on “What do you think of my beard?

  • Ah, Jack. Watching him type on the computer terminals at the Trib was pure poetry in motion. He typed with his index fingers, which I am sure allowed him to fly on an old Royal but not well-suited for the dead-feeling plastic-cap key of the terminal keyboard. Before typing he would sit down, remove a pair of very thick glasses and replace them with an equally thick pair — “For typing,” he said — and he would commence….first by looking down at the keyboard and then a loud “clunk” as his finger would hit the desired key, then he would look up to see if said letter appeared, and so it went until you heard, “G-ddamnit! Barb!.” Barb was the editorial assistant and retriever of Jack’s erstwhile stories in the cue. Those two words together meant that Jack had either missed the intended key and deleted his story (a common occurrence in the early days of newsroom computer systems) or he had saved his story and forgot to give it a slug and now couldn’t call it back up. Classic Jack.

    • It was easy to laugh about Jack behind his back when we were kids. But that old son of gun did more right than he did wrong. At least that’s how it looks to me now that I’m an old sun of a gun.

      It must have been John Brookhart … I remember someone telling stories about Jack in his prime. Sitting down and dictating stories to the Trib and the AP via phone from the remote corners of North Dakota and doing it when he was more than half liquored up.

      The single worst thing that ever happened to newspapers was when they ran off guys like Jack Case. I don’t know if there are any more characters like that. I’m afraid they’re gone and will never come back.

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